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The Art of the Surprise Visit

Waiting on the doorstep

Having been on the receiving end of an amazing surprise visit on Valentine’s Day last month, I thought I’d write about one of the best gifts you can give: a surprise visit.

When you’re living abroad, it is much harder to regularly see your nearest and dearest. Those in a long-distance relationship will understand that Skype (while a life-saver) is no substitute for regularly seeing someone in the flesh. Depending on where it is you live, you may have to go months at a time without your friends, family & boyfriend/girlfriend. The cost of flights adds up quickly if you’re travelling lots, and each moment when you are actually with your loved ones is precious and to be savoured.

So when it comes to birthdays and special occasions, your presence is often one of the best presents you can give. A fair amount of covert planning and cover stories goes into planning a surprise visit home, but when it’s done well, it’s seriously worth it!

My roses Firstly, you need to find the ideal date. A birthday, a graduation, Valentine’s Day, a wedding, etc. Yes, your surprise-ee will be disappointed and potentially angry when you tell them that you can’t attend the aforementioned event, but you have to stick to your guns and lie to them. After all, they will forgive you the white lie once they realise it was all part of an intricate plan. I’ll admit that I have caved once. In trying to explain my reason for not flying over for an important event, I used the excuse of not having enough money for the flight and having too much studying to do. The danger of using the money excuse is that they can check for themselves the cost of the flights and also even offer to pay for you. The result of saying this was that my boyfriend got really angry, declaring that I clearly wasn’t committed enough, etc. In the interests of keeping the peace I later told him that I had in fact already booked flights, so I didn’t manage to see that surprise visit through to full fruition. So, going from experience, I’d avoid the money excuse. One way to avoid this is to pretend to have booked flights for a later date, for a shorter visit.

Once you’ve decided which date to arrive, the second thing to check is what your intended surprise-ee has planned for that moment in time. Will they be at home to let you in? Are you surprising them at work or at a party? It helps if you have an accomplice on the ground to help co-ordinate the surprise-ee and make sure they’re in the desired location and the appointed time. Failing that, you could arrange a Skype session at a particular time, and make sure they’re going to be at home for the Skype. On the 14th February 2013 I nearly decided last minute to go out for drinks with some of my other friends also in long-distance and so I cancelled the planned Skype session. Circumstances transpired that I decided to stay at home in the end, but had I gone out, I would have left my boyfriend waiting on my front door step in the freezing cold for a couple of hours!

Thirdly, you have to come up with a cover story for your whereabouts. Invent something plausible and don’t be vague about your plans, as this will only arouse suspicion and potentially let the cat out of the bag.

You’re aiming to leave the surprise-ee gobsmacked and perplexed as to how you could possibly be there. A good tactic when flying, as you’ll be out of contact while in the air, is to say you’re out somewhere and your phone is “running out of battery”. This avoids any suspicion building while you’re out of contact.

My roses Then lastly: the arrival. An additional present may or may not be necessary, depending on the occasion, but make sure you have it in hand for the all important opening of the front door or the entrance into the restaurant. The surprise-ee is likely to experience speechlessness, potentially tears, awe, excitement, emotion, but generally should provoke happiness. The effort you’ve gone to will be greatly appreciated, especially if it’s a difficult journey to make, and it truly is better than any present in the post.

However this present should only be used every now and again, and interspersed with planned & agreed visits as well. Imagine if you were receiving surprise visits once a month – it would definitely lose its appeal after a while.

If you’re surprising someone while they’re at home, there’s always a risk you’ll catch them unawares, when they’re taking a nap or vegging out and completely unprepared. So you just have to keep that in mind. Fortunately I was still in a decent state when I received my surprise visit on Valentine’s Day, but I did panic that I wasn’t as prepared as I’d have liked.

Overall it was an incredibly sweet thing to do & I’d recommend everyone who lives far away do it at some point or other.

Have you ever surprised anyone with an unexpected visit? How did it go?


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  1. I am planning on surprising my boyfriend next week with a short visit home. I had to attend graduate school in Louisiana and he is up in Wisconsin. It’s only been about a month and a half I’ve been gone, but this is the first time in our 5-year relationship that we’ve ever been separated for more than a week. So it’s been hard for us.
    I had actually initially planned on coming back at this time in the beginning of May when I left, but ended up finding out that I wasn’t going to be able to come back home until August. When I told him this we were definitely both extremely saddened and upset by the idea of not seeing each other for 3 months. But I found out a few days ago that I will have enough time to fly back home for a short visit, and although it is not a special occasion, it will definitely bring both of our spirits up to be able to spend even a small amount of time together when we had initially believed we wouldn’t see each other at all.
    The hardest part of doing a surprise visit, in my personal opinion, is trying to predict and “orchestrate” where the person will be haha..My boyfriends parents don’t speak very good English so I don’t really want to try and negotiate/translate instructions back and forth and something possibly go wrong. So I will probably have to be very flexible and patient for this to go off how I plan.
    Hopefully everything goes well! 🙂
    Thank you for this very helpful and creative post!


  2. hi, I’ve just planned a visit to Australia to visit my best friend who i haven’t seen for 6 month because I moved to a different country. However i feel like i need to tell some one about it. How do i deal with this and not ruin the surprise. Also since we are in different countries what is the best story to make up and should i film her reaction? Thanks.
    Ps. your blog was really helpful.


    • So sorry for such a late reply… Have you already been and surprised her? The best story would really depend on the circumstances, and you can film it if you like but holding a camera up might just confuse her even more and detract from the surprise! I’d just enjoy the moment and I hope all your planning works out in the end.


  3. My best friend is off at college two hour away and I am stuck back home in high school. A few months ago, he surprised me with a visit. We hadn’t seen each other in a little over two months. A month and a half later I surprised him by showing up to his work. When would be a good time to surprise him next given the fact that him and I will be spending New Years Eve together?


  4. I’m thinking about doing this to my lover over in the UK.. I’m not sure how I’ll do it or when exactly.. But I know that I want to surprise her enough to make both of us cry with joy. I’m going to take this plan and greatly expand it for myself, that way I won’t be scared in case something goes completely wrong. Thanks for sharing your experience.


  5. Im flying to see my long distance husband soon. He has no idea and Im not telling anyone. Im going to fly over (I live in New Zealand he is in Melbourne, Australia) then I’m going to get a train to his work (he doesnt think I know where he works) he drives a very distinctive truck and doesnt lock it, so im going to find it in the carpark of his work and hope no one sees me lol Im then going to put my boarding pass which will say wellington-melbourne on it and the date and time on the steering wheel then on the back write ‘look in the trunk’ (he has the back seats down and a bed in the back with lots of blankets) im gonna hide under the blankets possibly in lingerie not sure about that part yet haha! so when he finishes work (i know exactly what time) he will get in the truck see the boarding pass then find me in the back. im sooo excited but the difficult part will be locating his work and his truck and not being seen by anyone snooping around his car cos someone might see me and go and tell him. i can barely wait to do it, its killing me keeping it a secret he wants to book a flight for me and i keep holding off until two weeks time saying we cant afford it. imagine if he flies to surprise me in new zealand at the same time that would be so funny! 🙂


    • What an intricate plan! I hope it all works like clockwork and that I’m sure he’ll be gobsmacked! (Is that a word you have down under too?) Good luck!


  6. Hi Virginia!

    Loved reading your post and all of the comments here about surprising people with a visit! I am currently planning a surprise visit for NYE 2015-2016. My boyfriend and I have been doing long distance since Oct 2014 and all of our visits have been planned trips, since we both work it can be difficult to find the right time to see one another. I am from the West Coast of the USA and he is from the Netherlands (South West). I will be arriving on the 31st in the morning and will surprise him sometime that day. His family is in on it and will be picking me up from the airport and his friends who is spending NYE with also know and have acquired all the necessary things for me (ticket to the party, plans, etc). The most difficult thing for me is HOW to do it, I know on the day he is planning to drive to Germany with his friend to get fireworks and that he has the day off from work. I will be there at around 9am. Not sure when his firework trip is, or exact planning for the day….

    His grandma almost ruined the surprise! Luckily I avoided detection 🙂

    Hopefully all of that makes sense! If you have any ideas I would love to hear from you.


    • You can ask him directly what his plans are for the 31st, but wait until the day before so he doesn’t suspect anything. Or schedule a skype at the exact time you’ll be arriving, so you know he’ll be at home? Good luck!


  7. So, my boyfriend and I already said that we’re not going to see each other for Christmas this our first Christmas because we missed it last year. It was a difficult decision, but we had to make it because neither of us had the fund for me to travel to Utah from California. I just talked to him and he told me that he missese and he started crying. Real tears. So, I have decided to get a ride to surprise him. I’m really nervous. I’ve never done that before I don’t know how he will take it, but I already have a plan. His parents are aware that I’m coming. I will arrive there on December the 23rd. Any advice for me? Should I be nervous or excited? Or both?


  8. I would really love to surprise my LDR boyfriend by a unexpected visit but I really can’t find the right situation. We are both busy with studies and the distance between us is from central Europe to India. Therefore the prices of flights are really high and personally I am not prepared to find the place he stays in the busy streets of an Indian City of Millions. Also there should be a certain amount of time I can stay so all the cost is worth it, but unfortunately he doesn’t really have holidays and mine are filled with internships and assignments. I am going desperate by the thought that we can’t see each other before our education is completed but I guess that’s the only chance. 😦


  9. My girlfriend and I are from different countries. Her birthday will be in next month, and I’m gonna make a surprise visit for her. I told her friends about this to help me to arrange everything, to keep her stay in her place, not going anywhere, etc… But I think they told my girlfriend about this plan instead!! So right now both of us are acting stupid, we both act like she still doesn’t know anything. Any suggestion for this? I really need help. 😦


    • Oh really! That’s bad luck but maybe you can add an extra element into the surprise (and don’t tell the friends) such as arriving and then doing something special – like gets tickets for a show or something? Good luck!


  10. Hi! I have an opportunity to surprise my LD bf with a visit after months apart. I’m really worried he’ll be annoyed that I didn’t give him at least a couple days advance notice (to prepare himself or his environment) or that I won’t be able to get him to go out somewhere in where I can surprise him! Is it better to let him know a day or two in advance or just go for the full surprise (knowing the logistical challenges)??


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